Some thoughts as the short week begins:
*The hockey world was shaken to a halt on Saturday night with the news of Craig Cunningham collapsing during pregame warmups prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game against the Manitoba Moose. The game was postponed and reports on Cunningham’s condition have been mum beyond that he ‘suffered a medical emergency.’ Thoughts and prayers for Cunningham and his family. No worse time for something like this to happen (cliche, I know).
*The outpouring of tweets and well-wishes from players and people around the game speak to the type of guy Cunningham is, and the reputation he’s built for himself.
*Meanwhile..back to hockey. The Arizona Coyotes decided to send Dylan Strome back to juniors, where he’ll play for Erie. Strome, the third overall pick in 2015, had just an assist in seven games with the Coyotes while averaging 13:41 per night. He’ll play on an Otters team that features the OHL’s top two scorers in Taylor Raddysh (20-28–48) and Alex DeBrincat (20-21–41), in a league Strome has put up 250 points in 124 games over the last two seasons. It won’t hurt him. The consensus in many circles is that Strome has highest ceiling among the crop of young talent Arizona has.
*Big blow for the Rangers losing Mika Zibanejad f0r 6-8 weeks with a broken fibula. Zibanejad, traded to New York from Ottawa in the offseason, had five goals and 15 points in 19 games. His fifth goal came in Sunday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to Florida, in which Zibanejad was injured crashing into the end boards and hitting his leg at a weird angle, something seen far too often in hockey.
*Zibanejad was a valuable piece for the Rangers in the early goings. He was third among forwards behind Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello in ice-time among forwards at 16:40 per game. He centered the go-to powerplay unit with Chris Kreider and Zuccarello. At the faceoff dot, Zibanejad has been the Blueshirts best on the draw. Of the three players (Zibanejad, Stepan, Kevin Hayes) that have taken nearly 80 percent of the Rangers 1,075 faceoffs, according to puckbase.com, Zibanejad is the only one winning more draws than he loses, at a success rate of 52.4 percent. He’s taken a team-high 37 percent of offensive zone draws, winning 59.8 percent. The 23-year-old has taken 27 percent of defensive zone draws (third on Rangers), winning 51.9 percent.
*RANGERS DOWNFALL WATCH: The Rangers have four goals in their last two games while peppering 59 shots on net. That equates to a shooting percentage of 6.7 percent.
*Four straight wins for the Hurricanes. Has the trendy surprise team among preseason forecasters arrived?
*Great read in the Boston Globe on the post-hockey life of Marc Savard. He was rated ‘suicidal’ by a psychologist at Mass General, but says he never harbored suicidal thoughts. He’s back in the game, coaching the AAA Minor Bantam team his son plays for. It’s good to see he has his life back on track.
*Regina finally lost a game, falling to Victoria on Saturday in game No. 19 for the Pats. They rebounded Sunday with an 8-3 win over Vancouver. The Pats, first in the CHL rankings, set the standard in major junior for offense, with 115 goals. Defending WHL scoring champ Adam Brooks, a Toronto prospect, has eight goals and 32 points in 14 games, his 2.29-per-game output up from 1.67 last season, when he had 120 in 72. Sam Steel, who was selected 30th overall by Anaheim in this past draft, leads the Pats with a WHL-high 41 points in 18 games.
*How about Miami? The young RedHawks went into Denver for a weekend doubleheader with the top-ranked Pioneers, and came away with two ties. Freshman goaltender Ryan Larkin was plenty busy, stopping 84 of 87 pucks that came his way on the weekend. He made 49 saves on Saturday night.
*That likely means Minnesota-Duluth will take back to the top spot in the poll, going into Omaha and coming out with four points.
Game to Watch Monday Night
New York at Pittsburgh: Rare Monday night of NHL action, and lots of pretty good games at that. But this is likely the best one. Put aside the rivalry, the divisional matchup, and the fact these teams played each other in the playoffs last season. It’ll be interesting to see what the Rangers look like minus Zibanejad, if they continue to show signs of falling back to earth offensively, as the Rangers have suggested in the past few games. The Penguins are 7-1-1 at home this season.
Hat Trick Pick
Artemi Panarin: Just two goals in his last eight games. He’ll be playing Connor McDavid, whom many claim would have won the Calder Trophy over Panarin last season had he not broken his collarbone early in the season (full disclosure: not an unreasonable claim).